As a woman begins to serve in ministry with her husband, she quickly learns that the life of full-time Christian service is not the exalted and glamorous existence that she may have anticipated and that laypersons often imagine. While ministry living is privileged in the spiritual sense, it is simultaneously pressured in the human sense. “To minister” means “to serve,” and serving drains our human resources. How can a pastor’s wife keep herself from drying up—or blowing up?
My greatest help through the years has come from studying servants before me. In particular, I’ve drawn repeatedly from Jesus’ direct dealings with His disciples. In Mark’s Gospel I find two essential Rs.
The first R is in Mark 3:14: “And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach.” Jesus ordained that twelve be with Him. Here I see the Lord stating the core factor in service: our personal relationship and fellowship with Him. Yet that’s the most threatened part of our ministry life, because we reverse the order of the above phrases—we give doing precedence over being. That’s a sure formula for trouble. As Jeremiah puts it, we thereby turn away from God’s sufficient supply and hew out for ourselves cisterns—broken cisterns, which can hold no water. So for the remainder of this article let’s draw close to our Savior, looking in on an interesting and important incident with His disciples.
Mark 6:31, 32: “And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately.” There’s the second R, rest. Just as we reverse priorities in our relationship and service, so, too, we ignore the strategic necessity for rest in our service. Digging into the Mark 6 passage, we find a good deal that should convict and challenge us.
First, note the source of this going-apart incident: Jesus Christ Himself. “He said unto them …” Apparently the disciples were so caught up in the busyness and blessing of service that they were numb; they were running on sheer nervous energy. He called them to rest—right in the middle of everything. But more: He takes them to rest, and He gives them rest. So would He do for and with you and me. Do we hear His invitation? Or, as with Eve in the Garden after her sin, does God quietly sigh, “Where are you?”
Now comes the invitation/command itself: “Come ye yourselves apart.” I find the form of address Jesus used here interesting: “you yourselves.” It’s like saying, “Yes, I mean you.” Thereby the Lord addresses them, identifies them, and isolates them. What a clear bid for their attention and response! Has that personal, underscored invitation changed since then? Not at all. Every day I live I experience the wonderful reality of Christ’s intimate involvement with me as one of His disciples. Also important in Jesus’ invitation is the fact that He called them away from ministry. There were ongoing needs and opportunities all around them; yet He said, “Come … apart.” He certainly had that prerogative. He was the One they served. He wanted to change their focus and their location temporarily and thereby refresh them. He will do the same for us if we take time to rest in Him.
Now the Lord indicates their destination: “a desert place.” An instant mental picture comes up on the screen, doesn’t it? They were going to a place where they could enjoy solitude. Remember how often Jesus Himself went apart throughout His ministry years? He knew those times were essential for prayer, fellowship with the Father, and overall quietness and renewal. But how many ministry folks today scorn doing that! They somehow feel guilty—so they limit their “away” times to visiting relatives or attending a conference. Neither of those, nor anything similar, can have the restful effect the Lord wants for His disciples.
Not only was the place they were going important; so also was the purpose: to “rest a while.” Jesus directly addressed the great need they had at that moment. They were tired physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—just as you and I get as we relentlessly drive ourselves in our ministry efforts. Yet, have you ever contemplated how consistently God built rest into His creation and His commands? Human beings have to sleep every day; the Jewish calendar was replete with special times of feasting/rest; every week is to have a day of rest. Clearly, our Creator never meant for us to be perpetual motion machines—but we try to be. We in ministry depart from Scripture at that last point if we exempt ourselves from taking one day of rest in every seven. Sorry, but that’s not spiritual—it’s disobedient.
God saw to it that a description was inserted in this incident: “for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” Doesn’t that sound like your calendar? Services, meetings, appointments, counseling sessions, and special events … breakfast gobbled individually as we dash out the door, lunch from a brown paper bag or a vending machine, dinner as a do-it-yourself microwave affair. Such constant, unrelieved pressures/adaptations can spell disaster both in our family ministry and in our formal ministry.
Now note the ending: “and they departed into a desert place.” I wish I were so responsive and obedient! The disciples didn’t procrastinate or hesitate. No protestation, “Just one more job, Lord, one more healing.” They left—left the people and the pressures of ministering. Even the means of their going is instructive: “by ship privately.” Our children used to put it this way: “Let’s do something or go somewhere so we can be just people.” That’s a valid and important need.
Now we’ve seen and heard the Master, and we’ve watched the disciples. It’s our turn. Will we hear? Will we heed? Can there be real restoration without rest? Strung-out servants break; burned-out servants fizzle. We laugh at those who think that the Bible says “cleanliness is next to godliness,” but are we living in ministry as if we believe the Bible says “exhaustion is next to godliness”?
Our call to rest in the ministry comes not from enemies of the Lord—they’re delighted if we end up in a padded cell or in sin, not from our congregation—they have no idea of ministry’s strains, and not from our friends—they’re galloping too. Rather, our call to rest comes from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Will we obey—or will we continue to live with a muffled but perpetual inner cry of “Help!”
Beneth Peters Jones, wife of Dr. Bob Jones III, speaks regularly at women’s conferences around the country.
(c) Right Ideas, Inc., 2005, www.rightideas.us